The Neurotic Turn

Charles Johns

We live in an age saturated with images. Video screens which loop multimillion dollar ads while we sit in the back of taxis. Teenagers scavenging through public parks in search of Pokemon. Technology —once thought of as a means through which individuals would increase their knowledge of their local environments—has, far from allowing us to commune with reality, fostered whole new worlds, equipped with their own social mores and systems of symbols.

What can it mean, then — today — to speak of “reality”? What was defined as reality in the past — our physical and social acknowledging of the things around us—has today receded in importance. This process of dephysicalization, which began with language, has become radicalized in the age of the iPhone. Forced to adapt, theory must interrogate this swarm of fantasies without resorting to knee-jerk dismissal—moving, in effect, from Saussure to the app store.

Fortunately, we have a great resource at our disposal—the concept of “neurosis.” For Freud, “neurosis” refers to the way that symbolic behaviour—the invention of irrational anxieties, which are often attributed to objects—is deployed to defend against psychobiologic pain.
Taking their cue from the work of Charlie Johns, who has argued that — far from being an ailment — neurosis is in fact the dominant condition of our society today, an array of thinkers have gathered in
The Neurotic Turn to address the question: what can ‘neurosis’ tell us about our current social impasse?
For Graham Harman, ‘neurosis,’ with its tendency to fixate on individual objects reveals to us the necessarily metaphorical and object-oriented structure of reality. For Katerina Kolozova, ‘neurosis’ is a characteristic of capitalism—a system in which we feel compelled to engage in limitless accumulation, without any regard for the utility of the things we accumulate. And for Nick Land, ‘neurosis’ has now given way to ‘Neurosys’ — an unbounded neuroticism with which we move from one phantasmatic obsession to the other, without any possibility of escape.
What emerges in The Neurotic Turn is the awareness that the medicalization of neurosis was merely provisional. Today, to understand our increasingly synthetic, digitized world, we cannot retreat from neurosis, or pretend to offer its cure. Instead, we must confront it—dispensing with the conventional idea of ‘reality’ in order to redefine it.
About the Author

Charles Johns studied Fine Art at Goldsmith’s College and progressed to do a Masters in Contemporary Art Theory under Professor Simon O’Sullivan, submitting his final thesis on the resurgence of nihilism in contemporary philosophical discourse.

Charles then went on to join The Collective arts committee in Lincoln (sponsored by Arts Council UK) and coordinated several events, including an exhibition curated by Tom Morton (Frieze magazine), which involved works by Sarah Lucas and Anthony Caro.

Charles has just finished a year working at the University of Lincoln within the Art & Design department, and is a current member of the Lincoln Philosophy Forum assisting in research matters specialising in continental philosophy and various forms of nihilism (metaphysical, epistemological, literary and political).

He has presented and published many articles on aesthetics and Continental philosophy, including work for Ephemera (Moscow), Goldsmiths College (London), The Collection (Lincoln), University of Duisburg-Essen (Germany), Camberwell College (London) and The National Centre for Contemporary Arts (Moscow). Charlie also has an ongoing blog entitled Mobilising Nihilism which you can follow at

Johns’ debut book, Incompatible Ballerina and Other Essays, published by John Hunt Publishing, has been heralded as “ground-breaking”, “an intensification of thinking” and “informed with rare philosophical intelligence and insight”.


The Neurotic Turn will be published in December 2017. Pre-orders will be available from: Amazon UK / Hive / Amazon US / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound

On sale: December 2017
Paperback ISBN: 9781910924655 ($14.95 US // $15.95 CAN)
eBook ISBN: 9781910924662 ($8.99 US & CAN)